Dmitry Bortniansky

Dmitry Bortniansky
Бортнянский (1788).jpg
Born(1751-10-28)28 October 1751
Died10 October 1825(1825-10-10) (aged 73)

Dmitry Stepanovich Bortniansky[1][2] (Russian: Дмитрий Степанович Бортнянский, Ukrainian: Дмитро Степанович Бортнянський; alternative transcriptions of names are Dmitri Bortnianskii, and Bortnyansky; 28 October 1751, Glukhov[3][4][5] –10 October [O.S. 28 September] 1825, St. Petersburg)[6] was a Russian[7] and Ukrainian[8] composer, harpsichordist and conductor, who served at the court of Catherine the Great. Bortniansky was critical to the musical history of both Ukraine and Russia, with both nations claiming him as their own.[9]

Bortniansky, who has been compared to Palestrina,[10] is known today for his liturgical works and his prolific contributions to the genre of choral concertos.[11] He was one of the "Golden Three" of his era, alongside Artemy Vedel and Maxim Berezovsky. Bortniansky was so popular in the Russian Empire that his figure was represented in 1862 in the bronze monument of the Millennium of Russia in the Novgorod Kremlin. Bortniansky composed in many different musical styles, including choral compositions in French, Italian, Latin, German and Church Slavonic.



Dmitry Bortniansky was born on 28 October 1751 in the city of Glukhov,[12] Cossack Hetmanate, Russian Empire (in present-day Ukraine). His father was Stefan Skurat (or Shkurat), a Lemko-Rusyn Orthodox religious refugee from the village of Bartne in the Malopolska region of Poland. Stefan Skurat served as a Cossack under Kirill Razumovsky, he was entered in the Cossack register in 1755.[13] Dmitry's mother was a Cossack origin woman, her surname after the first marriage was Marina Dmitrievna Tolstaya, she was a widow of a Russian landlord Tolstoy, who lived in Glukhov. At the age of seven, Dmitry's prodigious talent at the local church choir afforded him the opportunity to go the capital of the empire and sing with the Imperial Chapel Choir in St. Petersburg. Dmitry's half brother Ivan Tolstoy also sang with the Imperial Chapel Choir.[14] There Dmitry Bortniansky studied music and composition under the director of the Imperial Chapel Choir, the Italian master Baldassare Galuppi. When Galuppi left for Italy in 1769, he took the boy with him. In Italy, Bortniansky gained considerable success composing operas: Creonte (1776) and Alcide (1778) in Venice, and Quinto Fabio (1779) at Modena. He also composed sacred works in Latin and German, both a cappella and with orchestral accompaniment (including an Ave Maria for two voices and orchestra).


Bortniansky returned to the Saint Petersburg Court Capella in 1779 and flourished creatively. He composed at least four more operas (all in French, with libretti by Franz-Hermann Lafermière): Le Faucon (1786), La fête du seigneur (1786), Don Carlos (1786), and Le fils-rival ou La moderne Stratonice (1787). Bortniansky wrote a number of instrumental works at this time, including piano sonatas and a piano quintet with harp, and a cycle of French songs. He also composed liturgical music for the Orthodox Church, combining the Eastern and Western European styles of sacred music, incorporating the polyphony he learned in Italy; some works were polychoral, using a style descended from the Venetian polychoral technique of the Gabrielis.

After a while, Bortniansky's genius proved too great to ignore, and in 1796 he was appointed Director of the Imperial Chapel Choir, the first director not to have been imported from outside of the Russian Empire. With such a great instrument at his disposal, he produced scores upon scores of compositions, including over 100 religious works, sacred concertos (35 for four-part mixed choir, 10 for double choruses), cantatas, and hymns.

Dmitry Bortniansky died in St. Petersburg on 10 October 1825, and was interred at the Smolensky Cemetery in St. Petersburg. His remains were transferred to the Alexander Nevsky Monastery in the 20th century.

Musical legacy

In 1882, Pyotr Tchaikovsky edited the liturgical works of Bortniansky, which were published in ten volumes. While Bortniansky wrote operas and instrumental compositions, it is his sacred choral works that are performed most often today. This vast body of work remains central not only to understanding 18th-century Orthodox sacred music, but also served as inspiration to his fellow Ukrainian composers in the 19th century.

The tune he wrote for the Latin hymn Tantum Ergo eventually became known in Slavic lands as Коль славен (Kol slaven), in which form it is still sung as a church hymn today. The tune was also popular with freemasons. It travelled to English-speaking countries and came to be known by the names Russia, St. Petersburg or Wells. In Germany, the song was paired with a text by Gerhard Tersteegen, and became a well-known chorale and traditional part of the military ceremony Großer Zapfenstreich (the Grand Tattoo), the highest ceremonial act of the German army, rendered as an honor for distinguished persons on special occasions. Prior to the October revolution in 1917, the tune was played by the Moscow Kremlin carillon every day at midday.

James Blish, who novelized many episodes of the original series of Star Trek, noted in one story, Whom Gods Destroy, that Bortniansky's Ich bete an die Macht der Liebe was the theme "to which all Starfleet Academy classes marched to their graduation."

He composed "The Angel Greeted the Gracious One" (hymn to the Mother of God used at Pascha) as a trio used by many Orthodox churches in the Easter season.



  • Creonte (1776 Venice)
  • Alcide (1778 Venice)
  • Quinto Fabio (1779 Modena)
  • Le faucon (1786 Gatchina in French, with libretto by Franz-Hermann Lafermière)
  • La Fête du seigneur[15] (1786 Pavlovsk in French, with libretto by Franz-Hermann Lafermière)
  • Don Carlos (1786 St Petersburg in French, with libretto by Franz-Hermann Lafermière)
  • Le Fils-Rival ou La Moderne Stratonice (1787 Pavlovsk in French, with libretto by Franz-Hermann Lafermière)

Choruses (in Old Church Slavonic)

  • Da ispravitsia molitva moja ("Let My Prayer Arise") no. 2.
  • Kjeruvimskije pjesni (Cherubic Hymns) nos. 1-7
  • Concerto No. 1: Vospoitje Gospodjevi ("Sing unto the Lord")
  • Concerto No. 6: Slava vo vyshnikh Bogu
  • Concerto No. 7: Priiditje, vozradujemsja Gospodjevi ("Come Let Us Rejoice")
  • Concerto No. 9: Sei djen', jego zhe Gospodi, konchinu moju
  • Concerto No. 11: Blagoslovjen Gospod' ("Blessed is the Lord")
  • Concerto No. 15: Priiditje, vospoim, ljudije
  • Concerto No. 18: Blago jest ispovjedatsja ("It Is Good To Praise the Lord", Psalm 92)
  • Concerto No. 19: Rjechje Gospod' Gospodjevi mojemu ("The Lord Said unto My Lord")
  • Concerto No. 21: Zhyvyi v pomoshshi Vyshnjago ("He That Dwelleth", Psalm 91)
  • Concerto No. 24: Vozvjedokh ochi moi v gory ("I Lift Up My Eyes to the Mountains")
  • Concerto No. 27: Glasom moim ko Gospodu vozzvakh ("With My Voice I Cried Out to the Lord")
  • Concerto No. 32: Skazhy mi, Gospodi, konchinu moju ("Lord, Make Me Know My End")
  • Concerto No. 33: Vskuju priskorbna jesi dusha moja ("Why Are You Downcast, O My Soul?", Psalm 42:5)


  • Concerto-Symphony for Piano, Harp, Two Violins, Viola da gamba, Cello and Bassoon in B Flat Major (1790).


  • Quintet for Piano, Harp, Violin, Viola da gamba and Cello (1787).


  1. ^ Ritzarev, Marina: Eighteenth-Century Russian Music. London and New York: Routledge, 2016. P. 105.
  2. ^ The Cambridge History of Music
  3. ^ The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Music
  4. ^ Ritzarev, Marina: Eighteenth-Century Russian Music. London and New York: Routledge, 2016. P. 105.
  5. ^ History of Russian Church Music, 988-1917. Brill, 1982. P. 94.
  6. ^ HymnTime
  7. ^
  8. ^
    • Katchanovski, Ivan; Zenon E., Kohut; Bohdan Y., Nebesio; Myroslav, Yurkevich (2013). Historical Dictionary of Ukraine. Scarecrow Press. p. 386. ISBN 9780810878471.
    • Subtelny, Orest (2009). Ukraine: A History, 4th Edition (PDF). University of Toronto Press. p. 197. ISBN 9781442697287.
    • George Grove (1980), Sadie, Stanley (ed.), The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, 3, Macmillan Publishers, p. 70, ISBN 9780333231111
    • Gordichuk, M.M. (1978). "Bortniansky Dmytro Stepanovych". Ukrainian Soviet Encyclopedia (in Ukrainian). 2. Kyiv. p. 8.
    • Rouček, Joseph Slabey, ed. (1949), Slavonic Encyclopaedia, 1, Philosophical Library, p. 110
    • Thompson, Oscar (1985), Bohle, Bruce (ed.), The International Cyclopedia of Music and Musicians, Dodd, Mead, p. 260, ISBN 9780396084129
    • Strohm, Reinhard (2001). The Eighteenth-century Diaspora of Italian Music and Musicians. Brepols. p. 227. ISBN 9782503510200.
    • Rzhevsky, Nicholas (1998). The Cambridge Companion to Modern Russian Culture. Cambridge University Press. p. 51. ISBN 9780521477994. Dmitry Bortniansky Ukrainian.
    • Unger, Melvin P. (2010). Historical Dictionary of Choral Music. Scarecrow Press. p. 43. ISBN 9780810873926.
    • Kuzma, Marika (1996). "Bortniansky à la Bortniansky: An Examination of the Sources of Dmitry Bortniansky's Choral Concertos". The Journal of Musicology. 14 (2): 183–212. doi:10.2307/763922. ISSN 0277-9269. JSTOR 763922.
  9. ^ Kuzma, Marika (1996). "Bortniansky à la Bortniansky: An Examination of the Sources of Dmitry Bortniansky's Choral Concertos". The Journal of Musicology. 14 (2): 183–212. doi:10.2307/763922. ISSN 0277-9269. JSTOR 763922.
  10. ^ Rzhevsky, Nicholas: The Cambridge Companion to Modern Russian Culture. Cambridge 1998. P. 239.
  11. ^ Morozan, Vladimir (2013). "Russian Choral Repertoire". In Di Grazia, Donna M (ed.). Nineteenth-Century Choral Music. p. 437. ISBN 9781136294099.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
  12. ^ The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Music
  13. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2 May 2012. Retrieved 2 January 2012.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  14. ^ Kovalev, Konstantin: Bortniansky. Moscow 1998. P. 34.
  15. ^ (in Russian) "Бортнянский, Дмитрий Степанович". Krugosvet Encyclopedia
  • Ritzarev, Marina (2006), Eighteenth-Century Russian Music (Ashgate) ISBN 978-0-7546-3466-9

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